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Crimean Gothic language

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Title: Crimean Gothic language  
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Subject: Germanic languages, Goths, Ostrogoths, List of Indo-European languages, Principality of Theodoro
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Crimean Gothic language

Crimean Gothic
Native to formerly Crimea
Extinct by the 18th century(?)
Language family
Writing system unknown
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Linguist List Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
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  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist

Crimean Gothic was a Gothic dialect spoken by the Crimean Goths in some isolated locations in Crimea (now in Ukraine) until the late 18th century.[1]


The existence of a Germanic dialect in the Crimea is attested in a number of sources from the 9th century to the 18th century. However, only a single source provides any details of the language itself: a letter by the Flemish ambassador Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, dated 1562 and first published in 1589, gives a list of some eighty words and a song supposedly in the language.

Busbecq's information is problematic in a number of ways: his informants were not unimpeachable (one was a Greek speaker who knew Crimean Gothic as a second language, the other a Goth who had abandoned his native language in favour of Greek); there is the possibility that Busbecq's transcription was influenced by his own language (a Flemish dialect of Dutch); there are undoubted misprints in the printed text, which is the only source.

Nonetheless, much of the vocabulary cited by Busbecq is unmistakably Germanic and was recognised by him as such:

Crimean Gothic English Bible Gothic German Dutch Faroese Icelandic Swedish Danish
apel apple apls (m.) Apfel appel súrepli epli (vild-)apel, äpple æble
handa hand handus (f.) Hand hand hond hönd hand hånd
schuuester sister swistar (f.) Schwester zus(ter) systir systir syster søster
hus house -hūs (n.) Haus huis hús hús hus hus
reghen rain rign (n.) Regen regen regn regn regn regn
singhen sing siggwan (vb.) singen zingen syngja syngja sjunga synge
geen go gaggan (vb.) gehen gaan ganga ganga

Busbecq also cites a number of words which he did not recognise but which are now known to have Germanic cognates:

Crimean Gothic English Bible Gothic German Dutch Faroese Icelandic Swedish Danish Old English Old Saxon Old High German
ano hen hana (m.) Hahn haan hani hani (Archaic: hane) hane hana hano hano
malthata 'said' (unattested) - - mælti mælti (Archaic: mälte) (Archaic: mælte) maþelode gimahlida gimahalta
rintsch 'hill/mountain' ridge (unattested) Rücken rug ryggur hryggur rygg (bjerg-)ryg hrycg hruggi ruggi

Busbecq mentions a definite article, which he records as either tho or the (which may be either a gender difference, or an allophonic pronunciation much as with English "the", which is pronounced either /ðə/ or /ðiː/), and possibly attesting to Crimean Gothic's having retained /θ/ or /ð/ like English, at least in some positions.

Identification and classification

While the initial identification of this language as "Gothic" probably rests on ethnological rather than linguistic grounds - that is, the speakers were identified as Goths therefore the language must be Gothic - it shares a number of distinctive phonological developments with the Gothic of Ulfilas's Bible. For example, the word ada "egg" shows the typical Gothic "strengthening" of Proto-Germanic *-jj- into -ddj- (as in Ulfilian Gothic iddja "went" from PGmc. *ijjē), being from Proto-Germanic *ajja-.

There are also examples of features preserved in Crimean Gothic and Biblical Gothic but which have undergone changes in West and North Germanic. For example, both Crimean Gothic and Biblical Gothic preserve Germanic /z/ as a sibilant, while it became /r/ in all other Germanic dialects. Crimean Gothic and Biblical Gothic both preserve the medial -d- in Proto-Germanic *fedwōr (stem *fedur-) "four", attested as fyder in the former and fidwōr in the latter. This -d- is lost in all North and West Germanic languages, which have forms descending from *fewōr or *feur; Old English fēower, Old Saxon fiuwar, Old High German fior, Old Norse fjórir.

However, there are problems in assuming that Crimean Gothic represents simply a later stage in the development of the Gothic attested in Ulfilas' Bible. Some innovations in Biblical Gothic are not found in Crimean Gothic, for example:

  • Crimean Gothic preserves Germanic /e/, whereas in Biblical Gothic it has become /i/, e.g. Crimean Gothic reghen, suuester, Biblical Gothic rign, swister
  • Crimean Gothic preserves Germanic /u/ before /r/ whereas Biblical Gothic has /au/, e.g. Crimean Gothic vvurt, Biblical Gothic waurþi.

However, there are also similarities with developments in West Germanic, such as the change of /þ/ to a stop seen in Crimean Gothic tria (cf. Biblical Gothic þriu). Several historical accounts mention the similarity to Low German and the intelligibility of Crimean Gothic to German speakers, with the Dutch-speaking Busbecq's account being by far the most important.

There are two alternative solutions: that Crimean Gothic presents a separate branch of East Germanic, distinct from Ulfilas' Gothic; or that Crimean Gothic is descended from the dialect of West Germanic settlers who migrated to the Crimea in the early Middle Ages and whose language was subsequently influenced by Gothic.

Both of these were first suggested in the 19th century and are most recently argued by Stearns and Grønvik, respectively. While there is no consensus on a definitive solution to this problem, it is accepted that Crimean Gothic is not a descendant of Biblical Gothic.

The song quoted by Busbecq is less obviously Germanic and has proved impossible to interpret definitively. There is no consensus as to whether it is in fact Crimean Gothic.

Other sources of Crimean Gothic

Apparently the only non-Busbecqian additions to this very small corpus are two potentially Crimean Gothic terms from other sources: the first is a proper name, Harfidel, found in a Hebrew inscription on a grave stone dating from the 5th century AD; the second word, razn ("house"), may have lived on as a loan word meaning "roof lath" in the Crimean Tatar language.[2]


  • MacDonald Stearns, Crimean Gothic. Analysis and Etymology of the Corpus, Saratoga 1978. Includes Latin text of Busbecq's report and English translation.
  • MacDonald Stearns, "Das Krimgotische". In: Heinrich Beck (ed.), Germanische Rest- und Trümmersprachen, Berlin/New York 1989, 175-194.
  • Ottar Grønvik, Die dialektgeographische Stellung des Krimgotischen und die krimgotische cantilena, Oslo 1983.

External links

  • Busbecq's account, in Latin
  • University of Texas at Austin's introduction to Crimean Gothic (end of page)
  • Editions and Critical Studies, bibliography by Christian T. Petersen
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